The Bangladesh government is considering an extension of lockdown in the country as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise despite social distancing measures. Weighing heavily on the mind of lawmakers in Dhaka is the fact that the situation in other South Asian nations, particularly neighbouring India, also remains a cause of concern with the spike in cases.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held a press conference on April 5 but did not talk about extension of lockdown though she appealed to the people to celebrate Bengali New Year April 14 by staying at home. The lockdown in the country ends April 11.
She also announced a slew of economic measures to deal with the impact of lockdown. This included a BDT 720 billion fund for social security, large scale and small scale industry and trading.
The government of Bangladesh runs several social security programs such as giving free ration to people below poverty line, supplying staple food rice at only ten takas per kilogram and providing a monthly allowance for widows and the elderly.
Along with these, the government has taken up a massive program for making homes for all the homeless people this year, which is being celebrated as the birth centenary of the father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The Prime Minister has released BDT 220 billion for all the social security services.
Another BDT 500 billion is allocated to businesses in which BDT 300 billion will be given as soft loan to big industries. The traders can get a loan from BDT 300 billion package.
The interest rate of this soft loan will be 9 percent, but the borrower will pay only 4.5 percent and the rest will be absorbed by the government.
Simultaneously, the rest of BDT 200 Billion will be given to the small and medium scale industrialists and traders as a soft loan. The interest rate is even softer in the case of them. They will repay 4 percent interest, and the rest 5 percent will be paid by the government following the same procedure.
In her press conference, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina indicated two major small scale agro-industries of Bangladesh which are now much affected; Poultry and Fish Farming.
Bangladesh is the world’s fourth-biggest fish producer and is self-sufficient in producing poultry chicken, which is the most common protein source for the poor people of Bangladesh.
The prime minister felt that after the corona pandemic, it is necessary to protect poultry and fishing sectors.
On March 26, while addressing the nation on the Independence Day, she had declared BDT 50 billion to be given to the garment sector as a soft loan.
The garment sector accounts for over ten million workers and 80 percent of them are women. It is the hard work of these women workers that the garment sector of Bangladesh has claimed the number one position in South Asia and its world ranking is number three after China and Vietnam.
On the other hand, infusing money in the market, Sheikh Hasina gave some directions to the Central Bank for making the banking loan policy easier.
Sheikh Hasina is the only head of the government in South Asia, who faced the economic recession of the world in 2009. Many economic experts feel that coronavirus will lead to the worst recession the world has seen after the Second World War.
Sheikh Hasina was the first leader in South Asia to come up with a recovery program for the economy.
As a leader of a small and the most densely populated country, she is aware of the challenges before her. When she addressed a televised press conference to announce an economic package, she was simultaneously confronting two wars at a time — fighting novel coronavirus and slowdown.
Her additional burden is a lack of awareness among the large population that has little trust in modern medicine as they prefer to rely more on old traditional practices.
She had to deploy the Army to make them stay at their homes and maintain social distancing.
A major stumbling block in rolling out her economic package is the huge non-performing assets of banks. Bangladesh is notorious for big business houses defaulting on loans, which has even become a cultural issue for industrialists. The other problem is widespread corruption in the administration.